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When would I need a sound card (bought Harman Kardon Nova)

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February 19, 2014 4:04:21 AM

Hi

I've been reading about sound cards and for what purposes one would need them and basically came up with that if I'm using high end speakers I would benefit more from having a sound card installed.
So my question to you is this;
I'm buying Harman Kardon Nova speakers (I'll list the specs down below). Would I benefit much from having a sound card installed?
BTW, my motherboard is Asus Maximus Hero VI.


The specs for the speakers:
Specifications
• Power supply: 19V DC, 3A
• Power consumption:
57W maximum, <0.5W eco-standby mode
• Speaker channel number: 2
• Transducers: 2.5’’(63mm) for woofer, 1.25’’(35mm)
for tweeter.
• Amplifier power: 2*20W woofer+2*20W tweeter
• Frequency response: 70Hz - 20KHz
• Signal-to-noise ratio: 85dB at rated power (A-weighting)
• Bluetooth® transmitter frequency range:
2.402 - 2.480gHz
• Bluetooth® transmitter power: Max. 4dBm
• Bluetooth® transmitter modulation: GFSK,
π/4 DQPSK, 8DPSK


Thanks in advance for your opinions :) 
February 19, 2014 4:21:23 AM

I have generally always opted for a sound card as opposed to on-board audio. There are many who will say that on-board audio is good enough and if all you want is a computer that makes a passable attempt at playing music they are correct most on-board audio is good enough. But nothing can trump a high quality sound card.

The issue is two fold, features and quality. Most On-board audio solutions do not implement the complete AC97 codec standard which includes a loopback interface often referred to as "What U Hear" this enables you to record audio passing through the sound card. This feature is missing from almost every on-board audio product.

The second problem is quality, most on-board audio devices are little more than an interface connector to plug your computer into a hifi amp or receiver. In essence they actually contain almost no hardware, the CPU does the processing work and dumps the audio output onto the motherboard where the signal is mixed with all the signal and background electronic noise. This IS noticeable with good speakers, or headphones. Almost no motherboard manufacturers actually isolate the audio signal from the rest of the system. And of course because the CPU does all the signal processing work you can take a 5% hit on performance.

A proper high end sound card includes a dedicated sound processor, is shielded, and uses high quality capacitors and even features swappable Op Amps. Most on-board solutions cant even output 5.1 audio over a TOSLink optical cable but almost every high end sound card can. In addition to this most even feature proper phono outputs and some even include phono and toslink/digital inputs.

I use a SoundBlaster ZxR. Which was an upgrade for the already excellent Asus Xonar Essence PCIe card. Both can output and record at 192Khz, and have a linear resolution of 24Bits. Both are fully THX certified and can deliver 7.1 audio over TOSLink. If you have high quality speakers or headphones you WILL notice a degree of background noise in quiet segments of music.

But its up to you, most people are happy with on-board crap. I am most definitely not.
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February 19, 2014 5:38:44 AM

Thank you for a detailed answer :) 

Regarding the background noise you mentioned, is that standard on sounds cards and NOT if I were to use just the MB?

Also, I'm fairly certain that I will not be going higher than a 2.0 or at most 2.1 setup.
I'm obviously not as much into the world of sound cards as you, but is there a big difference
in pricing of 7.1 cards vs. maybe 2.1 or is 5.1/7.1 standard on most/all soundcards?
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February 19, 2014 10:56:40 AM

The background noise can happen in particular on on-board devices, but it can affect sound cards too. Having said that premium sound cards can mitigate the problem. The Asus Xonar Essence PCIe sound card features Output isolation and EMI shielding to protect the audio signal. The same is also true of the Creative Labs SoundBlaster ZxR. To my knowledge Asus offer one of the few motherboards that feature reasonably good on-board audio with their Rampage IV Extreme Black Edition motherboard. This features a dedicated audio processor and EMI shielded output channels leading to the component interface on the back of the motherboard. Unlike the Xonar Essence PCIe or the ZxR there are no phono output connectors.

With respect to multi channel audio most higher end sound cards offer it as a standard feature this is due to their use in home theatre systems. Bear in mind that both the Xonar and Essence are THX certified both Output Raw DTS and Neo 6. But since it is a standard feature of those cards it's common to find in high end products. Another benefit with a dedicated sound card like the ZxR or the Xonar Essence is the fact that they also integrate a 600 Ohm Headphone amplifier into the card as well. This can make for beautiful playback of 24 Bit audio in ranges up to 192Khz on a good pair of headphones.

Bear in mind though to get the best out of a sound card it needs to be physically connected to the speaker system. Since bluetooth connections between computer devices can bypass the hardware audio processor in the computer, it may in that case use the hardware integrated in the blue tooth device instead.
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February 20, 2014 2:38:17 AM

Agam3mn0n said:
The background noise can happen in particular on on-board devices, but it can affect sound cards too. Having said that premium sound cards can mitigate the problem. The Asus Xonar Essence PCIe sound card features Output isolation and EMI shielding to protect the audio signal. The same is also true of the Creative Labs SoundBlaster ZxR. To my knowledge Asus offer one of the few motherboards that feature reasonably good on-board audio with their Rampage IV Extreme Black Edition motherboard. This features a dedicated audio processor and EMI shielded output channels leading to the component interface on the back of the motherboard. Unlike the Xonar Essence PCIe or the ZxR there are no phono output connectors.

With respect to multi channel audio most higher end sound cards offer it as a standard feature this is due to their use in home theatre systems. Bear in mind that both the Xonar and Essence are THX certified both Output Raw DTS and Neo 6. But since it is a standard feature of those cards it's common to find in high end products. Another benefit with a dedicated sound card like the ZxR or the Xonar Essence is the fact that they also integrate a 600 Ohm Headphone amplifier into the card as well. This can make for beautiful playback of 24 Bit audio in ranges up to 192Khz on a good pair of headphones.

Bear in mind though to get the best out of a sound card it needs to be physically connected to the speaker system. Since bluetooth connections between computer devices can bypass the hardware audio processor in the computer, it may in that case use the hardware integrated in the blue tooth device instead.


Thank you so much for this useful information :) 
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June 24, 2014 9:21:12 AM

Agam3mn0n said:
The background noise can happen in particular on on-board devices, but it can affect sound cards too. Having said that premium sound cards can mitigate the problem. The Asus Xonar Essence PCIe sound card features Output isolation and EMI shielding to protect the audio signal. The same is also true of the Creative Labs SoundBlaster ZxR. To my knowledge Asus offer one of the few motherboards that feature reasonably good on-board audio with their Rampage IV Extreme Black Edition motherboard. This features a dedicated audio processor and EMI shielded output channels leading to the component interface on the back of the motherboard. Unlike the Xonar Essence PCIe or the ZxR there are no phono output connectors.

With respect to multi channel audio most higher end sound cards offer it as a standard feature this is due to their use in home theatre systems. Bear in mind that both the Xonar and Essence are THX certified both Output Raw DTS and Neo 6. But since it is a standard feature of those cards it's common to find in high end products. Another benefit with a dedicated sound card like the ZxR or the Xonar Essence is the fact that they also integrate a 600 Ohm Headphone amplifier into the card as well. This can make for beautiful playback of 24 Bit audio in ranges up to 192Khz on a good pair of headphones.

Bear in mind though to get the best out of a sound card it needs to be physically connected to the speaker system. Since bluetooth connections between computer devices can bypass the hardware audio processor in the computer, it may in that case use the hardware integrated in the blue tooth device instead.


Very interesting Agam3mn0n thanks, it does seem you do know your stuff and are an audiophile.

My question is as follows which you may know some people do say there's a huge improvement, others may not say the same.
The question is regarding games, how about games like RE6, Battlefield, Skyrim, etc. which although they may not support Dolby Digital or DTS, or maybe even THX like games on the consoles such as PS3/4, Xbox360/One, you name it; is there a way to deliver these kind of results similar in games on PC?

My guess is with your answer, of course we are going to hear it better and probably hear it in surround, but it's probably not going to compare one bit as DTS or Dolby in consoles. The question is, is there any way to get as close as you can with these 2 audio technologies on consoles, but on PC games and make it sound almost good as they have it encoded?
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